Weird Beliefs and Abusive Cults

Every so often I come across warnings about certain people who claim to be reincarnated fictional characters and who use that belief to suck others in and abuse them. Hell, I spent some time in the inner circle of one of those people, and I’ve got the psychological scars to prove it. Cult leader behavior is shitty no matter who’s doing it.

But what I keep seeing is the conversation taking shape around them believing $weird_thing, and not the part where they conned their housemates out of money, or consistently deprived them of sleep to break them down, or gathered the whole house together to berate someone who did something “wrong” (which could be anything from watching a movie without permission to not being social enough with the group). And the people who stand in line to jeer at how obviously anyone with these beliefs is crazy and should be avoided are doing these small-time cult leaders’ work for them.

Most of the people who got sucked in, in my experience, were people who were already dealing with weird shit. Maybe their favorite fictional character is taking up residence in their heads. Whether it’s an alternate personality, a mask their patron deity uses to talk to them, a random thoughtform, a connection to the ideal form of that character off in the creative aether, or even a “past” life1 in a fiction-spawned alternate universe is irrelevant — I’ve given up on drawing and redrawing those lines, because except in the case of the deity thing, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is that it sure is a thing that’s happening. And along come some people who are very enthusiastic about all this, and understand, and don’t judge. And all the people giving warnings about these people? Why, they’re saying it’s because they believe these crazy things — crazy things which our prospective cult member is experiencing for themselves. It starts to sound like these people repeating warnings are just prejudiced against a belief, not concerned about abusive behavior — and that’s how the cult leader will spin it. Things got blown out of proportion. It’s grudgewank. They just hate these beliefs and don’t understand. The group understands, though. They know exactly what their prospective member is going through, and they’re just good friends who want to help.

And then yet another person is propping up a manipulative asshole’s ego, unless they get fed up with the abuse and make it out on their own… where, if they’ve kept their beliefs, they can never talk about it for fear of being ridiculed for not “knowing better”. If they haven’t, they’re likely to go to the opposite extreme, denouncing their former beliefs and anyone who shares them.

I’ve seen a site run by a former cult member literally refuse to honor someone else’s request for anonymity because the person still believed some of the same things the cult did — despite the fact that this person was condemning the leader’s behavior and encouraging her to take some responsibility for what she was doing. But these beliefs are bad and wrong and we must PUNISH people who — wait, is this starting to sound exactly like the cult’s bullying sessions to anyone else? Kind of makes you wonder who’s done the better job of breaking away from the abuse: the person who’s calling the cult leader out while still keeping their personal beliefs, or the person going for the vicious take-downs of the Bad Guys, like good little cult members do to prove how Good they are.

In short: shit is fucked up, and fucked up in a way that hurts the people we should be trying to help the most. We need some tolerance, not for happy fluffy “All beliefs are equally valid!” reasons, but because when someone goes, “You don’t understand!” the response can be, “Look, this person over here? They have similar beliefs, and I think it’s weird as hell, but they’re not the kind of person who keeps you up for five nights running because they’re under psychic attack or whatever.”

You still get to think it’s weird as hell. That’s totally valid. You don’t have to agree with any of it. But if you’re willing to accept that there are people out there who can believe in all manner of weirdness and not abuse everyone around them, it makes things safer for both vulnerable people and abuse survivors.

…Hi. I’m Jaqui, and I believe in some weird-as-hell things, but I have no tolerance for cult leader bullshit. And that’s the important part.

  1. Shared UPG: linear time is for incarnate existence, and doesn’t seem to hold much meaning outside of it, so it’s possible to have your incarnations “out of order”, as it were, or even explore different potential universes based on things being different. This may partly explain the overabundance of Merlins and Cleopatras out there. []

Unsafe Ancestors

There’s something I’ve noticed in discussions of ancestor veneration, and it keeps coming up: the idea that your ancestors automatically have your best interests at heart, that if you call to them and they show up, then they must be there to help. Ancestors are the best possible protection, right? So just invite them on in and nothing bad will happen ever!

Yeah, that’s bullshit.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have seen mentions of what to do when it comes to dealing with abusive ancestors in your practice, from ancestor elevations to simply choosing not to honor that particular ancestor. But sometimes it’s the relatives you didn’t know in life that can cause the most trouble.

Case in point: a particular relative of mine, who at the very least is big on the sexual shame, and who I’m 95% certain was actually a child molester.

Of course, I didn’t put the story of a long-dead relative who was accused of molesting a child decades ago (not that anyone in the family believed the girl in question, despite the clear indicators that someone was molesting her) together with the picture my grandmother had helpfully donated when I asked for photos of deceased relatives until after weeks of intrusive thoughts, of suicidal urges, of filthy whore and dirty and disgusting showing up in my internal monologue, of increasingly disturbing images in my head when I masturbated.

Suicidal urges are a regular part of my struggle with depression, and while sexual shame was rare in the extreme for me, it wasn’t entirely unheard of, either. It was easy to write it off as my messed-up brain chemistry at work, at first. Eventually, though, it was obvious it wasn’t just a mood swing, or a new and exciting development in my depression — something not-me was causing it.

It took some time to figure out where the new and uncharacteristic sex-aversion was coming from, but when I did, I took his photo off the altar, told him to leave me alone, and tried to go on with my life. And lo and behold, the constant sense of sexual shame went away.

After that, I pulled away from ancestor work for a while, because it had been driven home quite thoroughly that not all the ancestors who show up will be warm and fuzzy ones. I’d read about people who had some badass Disir working to keep their ancestral house in order and make sure only safe people showed up, but I had no idea how to get in touch with them without opening myself up for more dead people who didn’t wish me well.

So while I was talking to Jack about the ancestor issue a while back, I suddenly realized the obvious: the Northern Tradition has not one but two goddesses Who are concerned with ancestors in a big way. Why didn’t I ask one of Them for help?

Feeling rather silly, I decided to talk to Hyndla and ask Her to put me in touch with safe ancestors. I said a little prayer, went and lit a candle at Her online shrine, and then went about my business…

…Only to have very vivid dreams in which my family was looking out for me, financially, with my great-aunt making a special appearance.

Now, I didn’t venerate my great-aunt for a long time, because of some old and ugly family drama better suited to a telenovela than this blog. But there she was in my dream, making sure I was safe and cared for. I started to think that it might be time to mend that bridge, and then two different family members mentioned in the following week that Tía Elena had, upon learning that my mother was no longer married to Stepfather #1, called her lawyer to have her will changed… only to die before the lawyer could get back to her.

No, really, when I say my family history is the stuff of telenovelas, I’m not kidding.

That was indication enough that it was time to add Tía Elena’s picture to the ancestor shrine, and these days I have a sense of her presence (and of my Disir) on a regular basis. Also, I’m no longer afraid of sketchy dead people showing up in my bedroom, which is always a plus.

Sometimes our ancestors don’t like us, not through any fault of ours, but because they were terrible people, and being dead hasn’t improved them any. Not everyone gains grace and enlightenment in their own personal hereafter. Some just remain awful. And while working to get our ancestors to a better place is a worthy pursuit, it’s not something that everyone can or should do right off the bat. Sometimes, we just need to find the safe people, the ones we can trust, before we can even think of engaging with the unsafe ones.

At this point, my strongest advice to anyone thinking of beginning ancestor veneration would be to first find the god/dess most concerned with ancestry in whatever pantheon you’re currently working with, and petition Them for aid in contacting the ancestors who will help and keep you safe. The scattershot “Hey, here’s a bunch of dead people I’m related to! I’ll just give them all offerings and see who’s helpful!” approach has gone incredibly badly for me, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under any circumstances. Start with the people you knew and loved in life, and then get some divine help before you go any further.

(I had to stop and ask myself at this point why asking Hela had never occurred to me, when it’s Her altar that also serves as my ancestor harrow. I have a strong aversion to the thought of asking Her, though… maybe because I see Her as concerned with all the dead, and asking Her to sort through Her charges and send some of them my way based on x criteria seems disrespectful. Surely She has better things to do. I might ask Her for help in reaching one specific person, but She is not Google for dead people.)

Hail Hyndla! Lady of the Bloodlines, I offer you all gratitude and praise. Hail!